When you cave in to a local recruiter and sign up to join the U.S. Army, you first must endure the gauntlet that is basic training — 10 weeks of hell before a cute little graduation ceremony.

Individual weapons qualification is one of the many areas a wannabe soldier must pass in order to join the ranks of the oldest branch. But what happens if you simply can’t reach your target?

“Qualifying on their individual weapon is a graduation requirement for Basic Combat Training,” Lt. Col. Randy Ready, a spokesman for the Center for Initial Military Training, told Military Times. “Trainees receive 92 hours of basic rifle marksmanship instruction over a three-week period before having multiple attempts to qualify.”

“Basic Rifle Marksmanship during Basic Combat Training is rigorous yet attainable,” Ready said.

At minimum, recruits must shoot 23 out of 43 target to qualify on the M4 or M16 rifle and graduate from basic training. Those that shoot a range of 23 to 29 are labeled as “Marksman.” Anyone who hits 30 to 35 targets is designated as a “Sharpshooter,” and hitting 36 to 40 targets will earn a recruit the title of “Expert.”

If a trainee doesn’t hit 23, he or she is given further coaching and training before they are allowed to re-test multiple times.

“Trainees who fail their first attempt at qualifying receive additional training and coaching from their drill sergeants before subsequent attempts,” Ready said. “Soldiers who fail to qualify on their individual weapon but have demonstrated the motivation to achieving the task standards are considered for reassignment to another basic combat training company or battalion.”

Luckily, very few fail multiple attempts after retraining, which can result in separation.

According to data provided by Ready, during fiscal year 2019, 16 Soldiers were separated for basic rifle marksmanship failure. In 2020, the number dropped to just four.

“In rare cases, if a Trainee fails to qualify after several attempts after retraining, an entry level separation action is initiated and the Soldier is processed for discharge,” Ready noted. “The entry-level separation (ELS) is a discharge from the military that occurs within 180 days of joining. It is not characterized under any other type of discharge, as it is used in circumstances where people have not met the service’s basic requirements.”

Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.

Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.

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